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Analysis out of the box

Fairs, and the workings of power

Analysis out of the boxArt Market | Over the last few years, the world map of contemporary art fairs has developed in synchronicity with the developments engendered by globalisation. First devised by the galleries of Europe in the 1970’s as a way of coming together and raising their profile, they have since proliferated. Some major fairs have taken up a leading role in the globalised art market, controlling high stakes, be they commercial, cultural, identical or even financial. So appears an « Art Fair Market » notable for its rabid competitiveness, causing the organising bodies to develop effective strategies which can also influence modern artistic trends.
Spotlight on a power structure.

Fiac, Grand Palais, Paris © Emmanuel Nguyen Ngoc
Fiac, Grand Palais, Paris
© Emmanuel Nguyen Ngoc

In the beginning, unity was strength

The Post war artistic scene, dominated by the United States promoted a new sense of freedom and fresh attitudes, and as Paris gradually lost its position as the leading light of the Modern Art market, New York became the world capital of Contemporary Art. During the seventies, 3 European cities, Cologne, Basel and Paris developed a new spirit of cooperation.

1967 - Cologne, a pioneering and democratic fair

During the 1960’s, West Germany, which had inherited a market culture in the Middle Ages (the Frankfurt Book Fair) particularly in the rich and industrial Rhineland, gives birth to the Modern Art Fair. Kunstmarkt Koln 67 sees the light of day thanks to two dealers, Hein Stunke and Rudolf Zwirner, who have no trouble in bringing together galleries from all over Germany, and building an organization which will allow the next generation of German artists to take on their American counterparts.

1970 - Basel’s Fair international by its very nature

As with Cologne, Art Basel was founded by local gallery owners closely linked to the Basel City Exhibition Centre and UBS. It took on an international dimension from its very beginnings, because the city, as a free port, had always promoted discreet dealings between traders. It soon became The Fair leader.

1974 - Paris, a fair at the cutting edge of culture

In the days foreshadowing the creation of the Pompidou Centre in the early 70’s, against the backdrop of a stagnating French art market, OIP, a young company which had been organising exhibitions grabs hold of the concept of Arts Fairs. Its director, Jean-Pierre Jouet calls on Henri Jobbe-Duval to help him promote the idea around the avant garde galleries which at the time made their home in the Saint Germain area. The SIAC, which opens its doors at the Bastille in 1974, becomes the FIAC two years later when it moves to the Grand Palais under the driving influence of its organizing committee chaired by Daniel Gervis, with the help of Culture Minister and art collector Michel Guy.

From the 80’s on, this fair became the reference point for anyone creating a national market, setting up a collaboration or creating a buzz, as proved by the creation of a multitude of art fairs worldwide : Bologna, Madrid, Brussels, Frankfurt, Berlin, Chicago, New York, L.A. During the 90’s in the middle of the Gulf War, the market became vulnerable; while many fairs started to question their position, Basel cunningly reinforced its strategies, so affirming its position as unquestioned leader.

A current map of the major fairs

During the 2000’s, thanks to the dawning of globalization, the art market gets a new lease of life. A notable influx of liquid assets is the main reason for this; this in turn is a consequence of a fluctuation in the balance of economic power from the west to Asia, and the emerging nations’ greater sense of confidence in their own cultural identity. This tectonic shift has redrawn the cartography of the world of arts fairs, giving them greater power to conquer new markets and find new buyers.

A rush on art fairs

In recent years three new and internationally interesting fairs have emerged, raising the stakes once more. In London, the Frieze Art Fair is born in its natural position as a focal point of the financial markets which it relies on to give it its vitality. So, for example it suffers badly from the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, while conversely, the FIAC is highly successful thanks to the purchasing consistency of French collectors. The Inexorable rise of Art Dubaï, a fair propelled by identical gambits, benefits from the financial clout which allow its development, but also from an Anglo-Saxon model of organization which has been able to walk a fine line between the high profile galleries based in the USA, Europe and Asia and those of the Arab World. Hong Kong Art Fair is the latest arrival on this highly exclusive scene, head and shoulders above all the other Chinese and Asian fairs. It effects a stunning rise in power thanks to its status as a free port, and to the historic presence of highly effective Anglo-Saxon networks. It represents the present and the future of the markets in emerging countries in South East Asia and China.

Tactical Games

ArtBasel, with expansion in mind, had pre empted this by founding Art Miami in 2003 in a bid to generate markets in North and South America. In 2011, it bought 60% of Hong Kong Art Fair, a highly competent Swiss clock factory in the middle of Asia, leaving little ground for other internationally ambitious fairs such as Art Singapor to operate on. It becomes the only organization with its head in Europe, one foot in America and the other in Asia.
On another level, Frieze Art Fair Plants itself in New York in 2012, directly competing with The Armory Show, while also founding a new fair in London combining Antiquities, old Masters and Modern Art, another sector coveted by passionate investors.
The FIAC, affiliated to Reed Exhibitions sets out its specific identity. If it is able today to describe itself as ?the most European, the most national of the large international fairs’, it is because of an enterprising approach set in motion by the arrival of Martin Bethenod (now director of the Pinault Foundation in Venice), and Jennifer Flay (2003-4) which combined French spirit with the Anglo Saxon networking culture. : It continues to develop a clever fusion of Modern Art, Contemporary Art and emerging Art, making the most of its ever increasing financial value year, of its exceptional heritage sites, both indoor and outdoor, the Grand Palais, Tuileries garden, Jardin des Plantes, forges strong links with French cultural institutions both public and private, and efficiently develops and maintains its web of big collectors.
It sets itself up as a French cultural label, creating interest from galleries and international collectors, and giving breath to a culture of buying in a prestigious environment. These market dynamics also stem from the stability shown by French collectors, who are characterized by their love and knowledge of art as well as their experimental curiosity.

An impact on modern trends

Fairs remain above all places of negotiation and deals in the real world, which take place in a constantly evolving network of business traffic. So they consequently and simultaneously affirm and reflect their cultural environment. Depending on their individual identity, the way they choose their galleries, their internal politics, their strategic position, their vision, their popularity, these organizations can influence market tendencies or even actual artistic tendencies.
In a very competitive environment, the success of a fair has become a complex alchemy which combines efficiency, and a mastery of the exploitation of the international networks its reputation depends on.

Nina Rodrigues-Ely
Publié le 20/10/2011
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Fiac, Grand Palais, Paris © Emmanuel Nguyen Ngoc

Fiac, Grand Palais, Paris
© Emmanuel Nguyen Ngoc